In Business for Freedom: The Red Light District of Kolkata

The company ‘FBA’ is located in the largest, and most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. The cries of hungry children drive them to sell their bodies. FBA opened its doors in 2001 starting with twenty women who were desperate for an opportunity to be free. It was hard work teaching uneducated and unskilled women to sew jute bags at a quality acceptable for the export market. Some could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days the average daily output per person was less than two bags. It was particularly frustrating when bags were sewn upside down and inside out and nobody noticed. Slowly these problems were overcome with much training and patience. Today, while many of the women are still not the fastest sewers, the business produces around 1000 bags a day made from jute and cotton material.

FBA entered a new market in 2009 by offering fair trade organic cotton tees (t-shirts). Girls showing ability in bag sewing were given the opportunity to train and learn new skills sewing t-shirts. Although smaller than the bags unit, FBA Tees is capable of producing 400 tees per day.

In the first few years all screen-printing was outsourced locally, however print quality and timely supply was out of our control. To overcome these problems and take advantage of the opportunity to create more jobs for freedom, FBA now has its own screen-printing unit supplying two customers, FBA Bags and FBA Tees.

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How The Foundry is Helping Freedom Businesses Find a Market

The answer is always the same… “We need marketplace access.” We work with Freedom Businesses – companies that have a focus on combatting slavery and human-trafficking. This answer is often given in response to the question, “What do you need most as a Freedom Business?” Marketplace access is a consistent, ongoing need for all companies, Freedom Businesses and BAM companies are no different.

What this question does not take into account is whether that market access is for retail, wholesale, white labelling, production only, or any other creative way to enter the general market. What we have found is that marketplace access is really a coded way to say, “We need money and therefore we need sales.”

The reality is that Freedom Businesses do need a market: real markets that are based on quality products and not just the marketing of the brand’s story or relying on ‘sympathy purchases’. While it is important to relay that story with dignity and deep purpose, the story should not take the lead over the product. The product needs to be able to stand on its own merit, with a real market, if the business is to truly succeed.  Read more

Business and the Body: Burgers, Burma and Keeping Connected

AND THE AWARD GOES TO...

Our goal is to provide the BAM Community with the best content and resources available. As we wrap up a great year we are highlighting various articles and resources which have stood out above the rest. Below is the “Staff Pick” for the fall of 2015.

Please enjoy and thanks for following!

From the rooftops you can see it. The personality of the land shifts as the row of buildings stretches towards the river shore. There is a gap there, the space for the river that marks the border, and on the opposite shore the skyline is again lifted by buildings. The buildings on either side of the border hide secrets behind their darkened windows and signs. These are the real stories behind the international headlines about war and human trafficking, about refugees fleeing persecution. The stories are reflected on faces around town – the people that have ended their journey at this border town where the river divides Burma from Thailand.

Set into the curve of the river on the Thai side is a small city, unremarkable by Asian standards. Bustling with local Thais, NGO and aid workers, adventure-seeking tourists, and the quieter but prominent refugee community; the unspoken undercurrent is ‘we’re all here, hoping for the best, and doing the best we can.’ It’s a promising setting, ready to receive the incoming ‘Friendship Highway’, which is said will unify these Asian countries with trade partnerships and tourism. New buildings and malls dotting the cityscape are the first evidence of a hoped-for economic boom. The new road is not all good news. It will also provide a thoroughfare for the darker trade of humans, vulnerable to poverty and traffickers. Read more

An Unexpected Journey: Trafficking Prevention in Romania

For Ryan Crozier, four passions remain constant: God, his wife, Romania and trafficking prevention. As a natural-born entrepreneur there have been many other passions and interests that have come and gone, but those are the ones that define his life. At age 12, Ryan fell in love with Romania on a short-term mission trip with his Dad that would change their lives forever. At 18 as a college student, the seeds for anti-trafficking work were sown as he listened to a visiting speaker from India recount the plight of children vulnerable to traffickers. His blood boiled as he listened to the woman tell stories of rescuing children from abuse. She compared their work to standing at the edge of a cliff trying to catch kids as they came off and not being able to catch them all. All Ryan could think about was why there wasn’t someone further back stopping children going anywhere near the cliff edge. It is a question that has helped shape the course of his adult life and it is the reason that today he is leading a company, eLiberare Design – a web design and development agency in Bucharest, Romania.

Although Ryan thought he would be moving to Romania for good when he turned 18, he instead was given some wise advice to get a college education first. From there God led him on a journey of preparation that included meeting his wife Andrea, them together getting jobs and starting businesses which would give them essential experience – and finally establishing the structures and support base they would need behind them to launch an NGO. Read more

Going Upstream to Bring Justice: Not For Sale

Stephen Goode has been involved internationally in relief and development work for over 35 years. For the past 6 years he has served on the Board of Not For Sale. We asked him how Not For Sale is responding to the challenge of human trafficking and why they have made business a central part of their strategy.

Much of the activity around ‘business solutions to human trafficking’ has been on the side of restoration and providing jobs for those being rescued from slavery. Why has Not For Sale more recently started focusing on business solutions for the prevention of human trafficking?

Slavery exists today on a scale like no other time in history. The Global Slavery Index reports there are 35.8 million people enslaved today and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate that USD 150 Billion is made in illegal profits annually. The vulnerability of at-risk individuals and communities continue as key elements of modern day slavery. Traffickers come in to individuals and villages, promising any and everything and the slavery cycle of exploitation multiplies. Read more

Moving into the Neighbourhood: Up Close and Personal with Freedom Business

Discovering Freedom

For more than 14 years I’ve had the privilege of living out life with women who have been given the choice of freedom.

It seems this freedom business thing does work. It provides hope where there was hopelessness, a choice when there was no choice at all – the chance of a new life that leads to freedom.

A life journeying with women discovering freedom, what can I say? There’s nothing else like it in all the world and, to be honest, I’ve discovered my freedom is tied up with theirs too.

However, there have moments in my life when I’ve realised I’m a bit slow to pick things up.

For a number of years I thought the way to more freedom was growing one business as big as it could get, until I ran a few numbers around in my head.

Sonagacchi, our neighbourhood, potentially home to 10,000 women trapped in prostitution would simply not be transformed by Freeset, and the other amazing freedom businesses in the area, growing as big as they could.

Between us we employ around 3% of the total women there which means there’s a big number to go – around 9,700 at least.

You see, I still believe in a God who wants justice. The one who came to set the oppressed free. I still believe he wants to do this today and that this massive problem is not too big for him. I believe he weeps for the women of our community as he weeps for many communities like ours around the world. I believe he calls those of us claiming to be his followers to be involved in his kind of justice in his world. Read more

16 Years of Developing People in the Daily Rhythm of Business Life

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

I work in Human Resources in a BAM initiative in Nepal. We’re working on developing a discipleship program and ways to develop our staff as people. We’re exploring ideas for one-on-one mentorship and weekly values teachings, maybe going through a book together? Does anyone have any recommendations and/or resources they’ve used? Also ways they’ve made this kind of staff development work for employees who are illiterate?  

~ Needing Advice in Nepal

Dear Needing Advice,

When any new employee joins any of our businesses, they begin a 3 to 6 month training course. Integral to this is an introduction to faith and as part of this, each working day begins and ends in a devotional time. At recruitment, it is mentioned that we have this daily devotional time open to all. Those joining are then introduced to our faith from the beginning. Once a week this time is led by a local pastor and once a month a special service is held, on a Saturday, at this local church. Discipleship on a one-to-one mentorship basis is also available whenever asked for. The language that we use is contextualised, e.g. Hindu and Muslim words are quite different for prayer, thankfulness etc., and we use different versions of the Bible accordingly. Resources for these are readily available from the Bible Society or Gideons International.

For those that are illiterate – and this is the majority – then spoken word, actions and songs are so important. Good storytelling is vital. We have held workshops on storytelling and using actions and these have really helped and encouraged women to then go on and tell others in the safety of daily company devotions. This further encourages them to repeat the stories at home. The Lord’s Prayer is recited each day and this has proved to have encouraged and modelled prayer. In this corporate setting, breaking up into groups of 3 to 5 women has encouraged others to pray with each other as well. Videos of the gospel stories in their own language, especially around Easter and Christmas time, have been powerful tools in our context. A Luke version is readily available in most languages and needs no explanation (the Hindi version is readily available, if Nepali is not). Read more

Profit, Scale and Transformation: The Freedom Business Alliance

We interviewed Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag, who is part of the core team for the new Freedom Business Alliance initiative and asked her how the FBA came about and what it is doing.

We are hearing the term Freedom Business being used more and more, what is a ‘Freedom Business’? 

It’s a business that exists to fight human trafficking. There are several types of business that fit into this category:  businesses that create jobs for survivors of exploitation would be the most familiar, but we would also include businesses that hire vulnerable people in order to prevent exploitation, as well as the aggregators who take products from these first two to new markets. A fourth category would be businesses that provide services specifically to and for other freedom businesses (ie., communications, logistics support, etc). Finally, there are businesses who have devoted the profit from their companies to fight trafficking. These are also part of the freedom business ecosystem.

We sometimes call freedom business the ‘backwards business’. In a normal business paradigm, an entrepreneur sees an opportunity to create a product or service that meets a need in the market. By gathering a qualified staff, he sets himself up to make a profit. 

In contrast, a freedom business starts with the group of people it intends to employ. In businesses working to prevent human trafficking and exploitation, those people have been made vulnerable by poverty, lack of education, or other challenging variables. For those in business for restoration, the difficulties are greater.  Their employees have already been victimised, and the resulting trauma creates levels of complexity in life and employment. Read more

Investing in Your Staff: Resources for Staff Development

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

I work in Human Resources in a BAM initiative in Nepal. We’re working on developing a discipleship program and ways to develop our staff as people. We’re exploring ideas for one-on-one mentorship and weekly values teachings, maybe going through a book together? Does anyone have any recommendations and/or resources they’ve used? Also ways they’ve made this kind of staff development work for employees who are illiterate?  

~ Needing Advice in Nepal

Dear Needing Advice,

Firstly, I want to commend you on investing into your staff. So often groups focus solely on the their client group, as that is where the need they are trying to address lies, and neglect their staff’s growth and development. Investing in your staff will ultimately benefit your your clients through staff become more skilled, wise, engaged, appreciated and will lead to less staff turnover. As Richard Branson said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

You asked the question about resources for staff development and discipleship and there are a number out there. There are Christian foundations courses like Christianity Explained, or the Alpha Course that can be beneficial for those very new in their faith. There are Christian ‘Bible Study’ Books either on books of the Bible or on topics or you can even just take a book of the Bible and read through it and discussing things together, such as one of the gospels. You can also just pick a topic and create something of your own. In one of my past roles I would each week use a passage or principle from the Bible and link it to a principle in business, organisational operations or relational wisdom and ask staff to discuss and come up with applications for their context. Read more

Purchase with a Purpose: Creating a Sanctuary for Survivors of Human Trafficking

Neither of the founders of iSanctuary expected to be engaged in business as mission, particularly not in the area of helping victims of the commercial sexual exploitation industry. However, after spending time in India, Stephanie and Wendy saw needs that they could not turn away from and decided to act. In Stephanie’s case, a magazine article about sex slaves captured her heart. Wendy first visited India and “fell in love with the country and its culture, but was haunted by the incredible poverty.” The two met on this trip and found a common desire to be a part of providing hope and facilitating freedom for these women in whatever way they could.

International Sanctuary (iSanctuary) was founded in 2007 and began working with young women in shelters in India. The organization aims to live out its name by being a sanctuary for survivors, a safe environment that contributes to their being able to transition from surviving to thriving. They generate revenue through the sale of jewelry and also offer educational and support programs to survivors of human trafficking in both India and the United States.

The founders of iSanctuary visited India, as a part of separate missionary-type journeys. Each felt a pull toward taking action that lasted well after their scheduled trips. They determined early in their business life to avoid an outward label of being a “Christian organization” and many of the individuals who have served their organization faithfully have been volunteers who do not share a common faith with the founders. However, throughout their journey, the leaders of iSanctuary have sought God’s direction. They share that despite a lack of previous experience, God has shown them way and provided guidance. He is also central to their business ethics and choices. Read more